Speeches

Back to "Convocation Remarks"

Convocation 2005Convocation 2005
Ithaca College, August 24, 2005

Thank you, Bill. Let me join those who preceded me by extending a very special welcome to all new students.

We are here today for you to celebrate the start of your college education and to acknowledge this important milestone in your life. This is a great day, a day filled with promise. At this moment in time all things are possible. Your dreams and aspirations have no limits. As Shakespeare said in The Merry Wives of Windsor, “The world is your oyster.” This world is yours for the taking.

What an impressive and diverse group you are. You come from 40 states, two territories, and 32 countries. You come from such places as Pennsylvania, California, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Florida, and, of course, New York. You also come from China, India, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. You are one of the most accomplished classes in the history of Ithaca College. There are 37 valedictorians, 30 salutatorians, and 15 national merit scholars among you. Every single one of you has shown that you are intelligent, that you love to learn, that you are willing to work hard for what you want, and that you care about giving back to society.

Of the nearly 3,600 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, you chose Ithaca College as the school you believe to be best suited to meeting your interests and needs. I congratulate you on your choice and believe that time will prove your decision to be a wise one.

You have chosen an academic institution with an unconventional approach to learning. An Ithaca College education is a blend of two distinctly American innovations: liberal arts colleges and research universities. In more contemporary terms, Ithaca Collegecombines liberal and professional studies to give students the best of both worlds. We have been refining this model for decades.

It is only in the past few years, however, that our approach to education has received the attention of the wider academic community. A recent Atlantic Monthly magazine article called the integration of liberal and professional studies “the third way” in American education. Suddenly, the approach used by Ithaca College and a handful of other colleges and universities is now considered to be at the vanguard of a new movement in higher education. It is a movement that combines the study of theory with performance and other practical applications. Ithaca College produces graduates who are both thinkers and doers.

Ithaca College is, to quote our mission statement, “dedicated to fostering intellectual growth, aesthetic appreciation, and character development in our students.” In other words, it is our mission to help you expand your intellect and knowledge; to increase your appreciation for the arts and music; and to encourage you to develop a deep, lifelong concern for both humanity and our natural environment.

While you are here at Ithaca, you will have the opportunity to select from a hundred academic programs and nearly two thousand courses. The excitement in the work that lies ahead is that these disciplines are, ultimately, vehicles for your intellectual growth and development. Whatever the discipline, your education at Ithaca College is about encountering ideas, turning them inside out and upside down, challenging them, analyzing them, and synthesizing them. The ultimate goal is for you to develop habits of mind that will enable you to keep learning after you graduate from Ithaca College, be it in graduate school, the workplace, or your community. Learning never stops.

While here, you are responsible for your own learning. You are responsible for engaging in the learning process deeply and enthusiastically -- with a sense of inquiry, wonder, and excitement. Your learning will take place in concert with outstanding and committed faculty who will serve as scholars and mentors. Our equally outstanding and committed staff will also be an essential part of your experience.

Challenge yourselves whenever you can. Step out of your comfort zone to encounter people who are different from you and who have ideas and opinions that are different from yours. The college experience will be richer for those of you who leave behind the safety of the familiar and the known in order to experience the new and the unfamiliar.

There are over 600 faculty members who will challenge you to get the most of your education. They are some of the best, most inspirational, and most motivated professors you will find on any college campus in the country.

Three outstanding faculty members received special recognition this year. They reflect the collective talent, commitment, and vitality of the faculty you will encounter during your studies here.

There is, for example, assistant professor Baruch Whitehead from the School of Music, who received this year’s Excellence in Service Award. Professor Whitehead has expanded the multicultural music program in the music education department by sharing the African American musical experience with college students who will one day become music teachers themselves. In just three years Professor Whitehead has built bridges to the African nation of Ghana and, at the same time, has reached out to underrepresented and disenfranchised students in local public schools.

Professor Whitehead has worked in the community to create an after-school program that provides instruction in piano, African percussion, singing, and strings, and has invited public school students to perform on campus with our students. He has given these young people an opportunity to attend concerts by local and visiting musicians they would otherwise never have heard.

He has traveled to Ghana to learn firsthand from master musicians and has hosted these same musicians here on campus, where they performed a concert with Ithaca College students and nearly 150 elementary schoolchildren from Utica, New York, and from the Beverly J. Martin School here in Ithaca. Those who performed in or attended the concert will never forget its energy, power, and beauty.

Professor Whitehead’s work is an acknowledgment that what we learn and teach is informed by connections beyond the boundaries of the campus, and that we have a responsibility to take our knowledge beyond the narrow realm and share it widely. In so doing, we engage with others, and that engagement enriches all involved.

This year’s Excellence in Scholarship Award was presented to Jean Hardwick, associate professor in the Department of Biology, who has created a remarkable body of research, much of it in collaboration with Ithaca College undergraduates. Undergraduate research is the focus of the grants she receives -- grants that enable students to be her research colleagues, to practice the theories they are learning in the classroom and laboratory, and eventually, for some, to coauthor articles and make presentations at national and regional conferences. Her primary area of research in the natural sciences involves the examination of how different chemicals released by the body can alter the activity of the nervous system, increasing our understanding of how the functions of the human heart are regulated.

Professor Hardwick has overseen a program that is of interest to outside funding sources and that continues to show results. By doing so, she has enabled the program to stand out in competition with much larger research institutions. With colleagues in biology and chemistry, she proposed and received a grant of nearly $300,000 from the National Science Foundation for sophisticated equipment that will be used in research with students.

Professor Hardwick has engaged students fully in the scientific enterprise, as shown by their coauthorship of peer-reviewed papers and their presentations at scientific meetings. She has coauthored papers in peer-reviewed journals with 7 students. At the same time, 11 of her students have presented at one or more professional meetings, where 2 received awards for the excellence of their presentations. Professor Hardwick’s work represents the best in the Ithaca College tradition of scholarly achievement and serves as a model for future scientists to emulate.

The Excellence in Teaching Award was presented to Stephen Mosher, a professor of 30 years in the Department of Sport Management and Media. Professor Mosher received the award for being a master of his subject, for his exemplary presentation skills, for his dedication to teaching, and for his ability to engage students in meaningful dialogue about the world and their lives. A student who nominated him for the award said that Professor Mosher has “dedicated his academic life to going beyond normal textbook and classroom material.”

Professor Mosher encourages students to view sports through a critical lens. He challenges students to look at the social and political aspects of sports; he raises questions about race and gender; and he fosters discussions about equality, socioeconomics, marketing, values, and class. After three decades as a teacher, he continues to teach every single class with unbridled enthusiasm. He has found his life’s work: he is passionate about it, and it shows. Professor Mosher has been recognized for continually reimagining his teaching and scholarship. As such, he embodies our collective commitment to teaching excellence and lifelong learning.

Jean Hardwick, Stephen Mosher, and Baruch Whitehead illustrate the variety of disciplines, subjects, and teaching styles waiting for you to explore and experience. Our Ithaca College faculty members are second to none -- each has her or his unique teaching style, knowledge, and point of view. They are here to teach you about the subjects they love. They are dedicated to engaging you. Their enthusiasm is infectious and will open new worlds to you.

I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the freedom to explore any subject that interests you, regardless of what you elect for a major. As Provost Peter Bardaglio explained during summer orientation, a learning community like Ithaca College engages everyone in continual learning -- students, faculty, and staff.

Learning doesn’t just occur in the classroom. It occurs through internships; study abroad; on-campus employment; participation in clubs, organizations, and volunteer activities; competition on the athletic field; and learning to live in harmony with a roommate whom you hardly know today. Members of a learning community understand that real learning requires active, not passive, involvement, and that education is most fulfillingwhen everyone participates and is engaged.

Our academic community values intellectual inquiry and critical thinking as necessary prerequisites to learning and responsible citizenship. And because we believe that learning occurs through the encounter with difference and with the unknown, our community values diversity and civility. Membership in our community is a privilege, not a right, and belongs to those who seek a vibrant, diverse, and respectful environment in which people of all backgrounds and perspectives gather to explore, to grow, and to learn.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “If we are to achieve a richer culture, richer in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” Your intellectual life at Ithaca College begins tomorrow morning with a group discussion about Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the award-winning book you were assigned to read this summer. The summer reading initiative is intended to offer you a shared academic experience that cuts across all schools and divisions. The discussion will be led by faculty and staff, who will encourage you to share your views and to discuss this important book from many perspectives: literary, historical, political, personal, and social. This kind of broad engagement is what a learning community does best.

For those guests in the audience who are unfamiliar with Mr. O’Brien’s book, it is an unforgettable story about infantrymen fighting in the Vietnam War. Mr. O’Brien is an exceptionally gifted writer. The Things They Carried motivated the San Francisco Examiner to call Mr. O’Brien the best American writer of his generation. It is a powerful book about a controversial war. The Boston Globe said that The Things They Carried leaves third-degree burns. Few writers have the ability to produce that kind of reaction.

Beyond tomorrow, some of you will also discuss the book, and the ideas that emanate from it, in courses you will take this semester and next. You will all have the opportunity to hear Tim O’Brien speak in person about his book here on campus on September 8, as well as to attend other events designed to promote discussion of his book.

During your years at Ithaca you will begin the process of determining what you want to do with the rest of your life. There is no hurry for you to make up your mind. This is, after all, a very special time. It is a time to enjoy yourself, to meet new people, to make lifelong friends, to challenge yourself, to become a vital part of a lively community, to be vocal about what you believe in, as well as to listen carefully to others.

It may help to know that the Ithaca College staff and faculty believe you can do whatever you want to do with your life. We believe, as Margaret Mead believed, that you and a few like-minded people are a powerful force for change. She said, “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We have good reason to be optimistic about you. After all, we know what wonderful things past graduates have accomplished, and we are convinced that you too are capable of making significant contributions to society.

In closing, in the days ahead, Ithaca College will become your new home. You will make many new friends here. You will study together, laugh together, hike together, share meals together, travel together, debate one another, and attend and perform in concerts and sporting events together. Some of you will become lifelong friends. Still others will become business colleagues or partners. Rest assured you will experience some of the best times of your life while attending Ithaca College -- times that will prepare you well for your life after graduation.

Embrace what lies ahead with a spirit of inquiry and wonder. Enjoy your newfound freedom and independence, bean active participant in this vibrant learning community, and take full advantage of all that Ithaca College has to offer -- today, tomorrow, and in the weeks and months to come.

All the best.
Thank you!